Sonny Chiba stars in THE STREETFIGHTER (Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken), directed by Ozawa Shigehiro for Toei Company.

The Streetfighter (1974, Ozawa Shigehiro)

There’s not much story to The Streetfighter. There’s some, but it’s usually dumb. Director Ozawa isn’t interested in developing lead Sonny Chiba as a character. He’s one of the best “karate men” (I really wonder if that term’s just the subtitles) in Japan and he’s a mercenary. He’s got a chubby, lovable sidekick, Yamada Goichi, who cooks for him and dotes on him. It’s a weird subplot, as the film’s first attempt to make Chiba likable (through Yamada) immediately goes dark after Chiba kills some guy and sells his sister into prostitution.

The Streetfighter doesn’t have any good roles for women. It’s questionable whether it has any good roles for men, but it really doesn’t have any good roles for women. They’re either disposable, evil or just around to fall over Chiba. Oddly, only the “bad girls” are any good at fighting. In its longer scenes, when there’s nothing but bad expository dialogue, it’s hard to avoid its problems and the fundamental misogyny is its biggest problem. The other big problem–it being, you know, dumb–is more forgivable.

So there aren’t any good roles for women, Chiba’s got no character, the bad guys are really lame. But The Streetfighter has something else. It has Chiba the movie star, the presence, the karate man. He makes exaggerated faces and barbaric noises. He looks like a caged beast during the fight scenes, every attack he makes the door to freedom opening. It doesn’t make for a good film, but it makes for some great scenes.

Director Ozawa and editor Horiike Kôzô know how to do the fight scenes. Horiike’s editing is good throughout, but the fight scenes–slowed down, sped up–are phenomenal. Ozawa’s hit or miss. Streetfighter doesn’t have the biggest budget and Ozawa occasionally stumbles when trying to hide a short cut here or there, but the film’s solidly produced. Except for the fight scenes. They’re amazing. The penultimate fight scene, with Chiba working his way through bad guys in the bowls of a ship, almost redeems the entire film. It might if the final fight scene were anywhere near as good.

The Streetfighter tries to make a point of its meanness–especially in the graphic violence–but it’s a confused gesture. Chiba’s not mean. He’s so matter of fact, he’s as absurd as the villains. Until he starts kicking ass. Then he’s magic, then The Streetfighter’s magic. The rest of the film is just waiting for those moments.

Nice photography from Tsukagoshi Kenji and a fun score from Tsushima Toshiaki help.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ozawa Shigehiro; written by Takada Kôji and Torii Motohiro; director of photography, Tsukagoshi Kenji; edited by Horiike Kôzô; music by Tsushima Toshiaki; production designer, Suzuki Takatoshi; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Takuma Tsurugi), Nakajima Yutaka (Sarai Chuayut), Yamada Goichi (Zhang Rakuda), Masashi Ishibashi (Shikenbaru Tateki), Yabuki Jirô (Shikenbaru Gijun), Shihomi Etsuko (Shikenbaru Nachi), Suzuki Masafumi (Masaoka Kendo), Kawai Nobuo (Tsuchida Tetsunosuke), Kazama Ken (Kan Senkaku), Sumitomo Shiro (Onaga) and Watanabe Fumio (Mutaguchi Renzo).


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